With big spenders Paris Saint-Germain FC billed as the team to beat, unfancied Montpellier Hérault SC quietly went about their work before staging a relentless siege on the Ligue 1 title, which culminated in René Girard's side becoming champions of France for the first time.
Having finished three points above the relegation zone the previous season, expectations were modest and even challenging for the Ligue 1 crown seemed beyond the realms of possibility. Tensions were therefore high as the southern side headed into their final league game against AJ Auxerre, knowing a point would make that dream a reality. John Utaka proved the man for the big occasion as his double secured a 2-1 victory and sent the band of travelling supporters – as well as the 20,000 who stayed on a rain-soaked Place de la Comedie to watch the game on giant screens – into a wild frenzy.
Thousands of fans are expecting to greet the triumphant players and staff in central Montpellier this evening when they will be presented with the Ligue 1 trophy, their first piece of silverware since winning the French League Cup in 1992. The orchestrator of it all, Girard, said: "
I think it's refreshing. It's good. It revives our football. It shows you don't need to fear anybody, and that money doesn't buy happiness. We're a club made of friends, basically an academy, and finally it worked [for us] with a balanced team."
For the majority of the players and the 58-year-old coach, who himself is a three-time French champion with FC Girondins de Bordeaux, this landmark season is the biggest footballing moment of their careers. Last weekend's crucial victory against 2011 champions LOSC Lille Métropole ended with the sight of tears streaming down Girard's face, and tonight's ceremony promises to be another heartfelt occasion.
Defender Henri Bedimo said: "Being crowned with 82 points is amazing. I hope we'll get more moments like this one." "We've done it, it's incredible," added Ligue 1's top goalscorer and France international, Olivier Giroud. "It's well deserved for all we did this season."
The story is nothing short of a fairy tale and has captured the hearts of a proud nation. President Louis Nicollin founded the club in 1977 and watched history unfold as Montpellier came from nothing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stage next season. "For me it is pride," said Nicollin. "It still hasn't sunk in yet but I think we fully deserved it."
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